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Behind the Ball (that just dropped)

The ball dropped three days ago, yet I already feel behind the ball.

We are finally slowing down after a few weeks of holiday travel and excitement which preceded a full eight days of intense college ministry. Even the slowing down feels like a quick pit stop to frantically patch up some popped tires, refill with gas, and get back on the track.

While others seem to be stepping into the New Year with selected theme words of purpose, goals, and stocked pantries, I feel like I am starting in a deficit on all fronts. Don’t get me wrong, I am deeply drawn to intentionality and planning, I simply have not had space enough to do laundry, let alone come up with a laundry list of goals and plans.

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While flying home late last night, the Lord was so gracious to use one of my favorite authors, Eugene Peterson, to speak hope into my tired soul. In this particular chapter of his book Under the Unpredictable Plant,  Peterson has been talking extensively about the way that God uses the storms in our lives to expose us and realign ourselves with Him.

“They {the sea storms} expose us to what we cannot manage. We are returned to primordial chaos, to the tohu and bohu of Genesis 1, where we submit our lives to the world-making word of God. These storms are not simply bad weather; they are the exposure of our lives to the brooding, hovering wind/spirit of God. In the storm  we are reduced to what is elemental, and the ultimate elemental is God. And so prayer emerges as the single act that has to do with God.” 

While I am not experiencing any particular storm, I do feel haggard from the continual exposure to the weather that is this season of ministry and life. Three sons, each in one sport they love, fills their cup, but tends to drain mine. Our calling to college ministry keeps us on the front lines of the gospel advancing, but also exposes us to the shrapnel of the spiritual battlefield. Doing women’s ministry in our local Church is my dream job, but it has a way of exposing all the ways that I am not the women’s director I dream I could be.

If I am honest, I feel weary and worn. I know in my mind that these are the best kinds of weary or worn, but they still cause my soul to sag and my hands to drop. Rather than looking out on a new year and a new decade with hope and excitement, I have been looking at them through eyes of very real powerlessness and insufficiency.

Peterson’s reminder of two harsh Hebrew words strangely brought me hope.

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. Genesis 1:1-2.

The Hebrew word tohu, translated above as “without form,” can also be translated as confusion, chaos, emptiness, desolation, and empty space. Likewise, the Hebrew word bohu, translated above as “void,” can also mean emptiness, vacuity, and an undistinguishable ruin.

The canvas on which God chose to work His creation was chaos, confusion, emptiness, desolation. Figuratively speaking, those were His media in creating everything ex nihilo, out of nothing.

God did not start with a Create-by-Number kit, unfolding an instruction manual and opening His fresh paint pots. Our powerful, self-existent, all-powerful Trinitarian God took emptiness and made everything. He ordered chaos with His voice.

In Genesis 1:1, bara, the Hebrew word translated “created,” can also mean to shape and to bring about.  Our God is the cosmic chaos-shaper, the ordinal order-maker.

Oh, what hope that brings me as I stare into what feel like the emptiness, chaos, and questions of a new year (I am not even letting myself thing about a new decade)!

Oh, what pressure is released from control-hungry, expectation-starving soul knowing that my God can order and shape whatever whoops, whirls, swirls and storms are on this new year’s topographical map!

I am not behind. I am exactly where I need to be: powerless but being in-dwelt by the All-powerful One, insufficient but significantly held by the All-sufficient One.

 

 

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One Dollar More

Supposedly, John D. Rockefeller, the oil tycoon often considered one of the wealthiest Americans of all time, when asked what would make him happy, answered, “One dollar more.”

My husband and I live on the generosity of the supporters of the Campus Ministry that employs us. I love thrift stores and we try (try being the operative word) to keep to a tight grocery budget. At first glance, we are a far cry from the Rockefeller lifestyle; however, my heart is infected with the same sickness that seems to have plagued him.

While I don’t find myself clinging to the next dollar, I do find myself clinging to and hanging my hope upon the next article I write, the next exciting adventure or the next way to be more organized.  For my kids, it can look like one more Lego set, one more goal, or one more Starburst.

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Just one more.
For some it may be one more pound lost or one more sports car. For others, it may be one more child or one more promotion. For others, it might be one more compliment or five more minutes of fame. While it manifests in the widest spectrum of symptoms, the disease distempers each of us who inhabit this spinning rock.  At some point after achieving that achievement or possessing that possession or reaching that milestone, we find ourselves creating a new one more to add to the ceaseless series.

If only I could be more.
As we approach New Year’s resolution season, my case of the Just One Mores tends to become exacerbated and is joined by an acute case of the “If only I could be more…” If only I could be more disciplined, I could lose those extra inches. If only I could be more laid back, our household would be more light-hearted. If I only I could be more consistent, my walk with God would more closely mirror Mother Theresa’s.  If only I could be better at keeping in touch, I could be a better daughter and friend.

In theory, I love the fresh slate of an approaching new year; however, in practice, I find the turn of the calendar paralyzing on account of the Just One Mores and the If Only I Could Be Mores.

Antidotes.
As I come into the home stretch of 2019 and stare into 365 days of an unknown and unknowable 2020, I want to hang my hope and happiness, my security and success on the all-knowing God is who eminently knowable.  In His revealed Word and the fullest revelation of Himself in the person of Christ, I find the antidote to my sin-sickness.

But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.  1 Timothy 6:6-8. 

Physical food and actual clothing, yes. But we have an eternal food and clothing completely provided for us by the person of Christ.

When Christ was on the earth, He gave us hints into the secret of His contentment with his early career of carpentry and his second career as an itinerant preacher.

Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work. John 4:32. 

Through Christ, we are given the righteous robes that cover our ragged attempts at self-righteousness and self-improvement.  In Christ, we are given the opportunity to make God’s will and ways our bread.

In Christ, we have food and clothing and the antidote to our cases of One Mores and If Only I Could Be Mores.

As we look to a new year, we trust not in our own efforts or strength, but in the completed work of the Risen and Resurrected Christ.

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all we ask or think, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. Ephesians 3:20-21. 

One More can become One More Chance to lean on the God who can do far more than I could ever dream or plan.

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The Power of Staying

I have such an American spirit. I love adventure, dream of travel, and am deeply intrigued by the next thing. Yet, the Lord has been pressing into me the power of staying for the past two decades.

The turning of the new year is always a bit of a challenge for me and my wanderlusting, ambitious self.  It’s not the goals or the desires that are dangerous, it it is the fuel by which I seek to achieve those goals and desires that trips me up. Since coming to faith, the Lord has been dismantling performance, self-will, and self-sufficiency in me. He has been slowly teaching my fast-paced, next-thing-please soul to wait and to stay.

When I begin to dream of bigger things, better things the Lord continually draws me back to Psalm 37. For the past two weeks, I have found my hands opening back up to those well-worn pages during my times alone with God, lingering over each word. Four words, in particular,  have been arresting my overly-ambitious self of late: stay, cultivate, delight, and commit.

Trust in the Lord, and do good; dwell in the land, and befriend faithfulness.  Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust  in him, and he will act. He will bring forth your righteousness as the light, and your justice as the noonday. Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices. Psalm 37: 3-7.  

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Stay
The word translated dwell above is the Hebrew word shakan which carries the same range of meaning as the Greek word meno, translated as abide in the New Testament. They mean to settle into, to reside, to take up residency, to establish oneself, to settle down, to station oneself. In one word, stay.

In a world that seeks to bring about change by moving, buying, trading externals and circumstances, the Lord often bids us stay and be transformed internally so that we can approach the same people, places, and things from a different perspective or with new eyes of faith, more specifically His eyes.

Cultivate
Befriend faithfulness:  what an interesting, deeply phrased command. The Hebrew word raah, translated befriend above, can also mean to make one’s companion, to cultivate, to keep company with. 

Our culture rewards and celebrates flashiness, but the kingdom of God celebrates faithfulness as seen in steady, trusting obedience that does not wax or wane based on circumstances. David, the God-ordained-king-in-waiting, had much reason to be vexed, alarmed, and self-motivated to grab the throne from Saul; yet, he fought to remind himself to trust the Lord and His timing, to be more concerned with the kind of man God was making him than the externals of his life.

God would deliver on His promises in His time: that was God’s job. David’s job was to remain in Him, to hide in Him, to wait upon Him, all the while making faithfulness and godliness his companions.

Delight
Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart (verse 4). Entirely too often, I have heard this verse used as a lucky rabbit’s foot to be rubbed or a mantra to be repeated to get what one wants. However, I think David was saying something far more profound and difficult than that. David was reminding his soul to take its deepest delight in God Himself and to let that directing and correcting desire shape his other, very real desires. 

The Hebrew word anog, translated delight above, comes from a root word which means to be soft or pliable, to live or spend in enjoyment. The picture is that of a lover’s heart becoming putty in the presence of the beloved. The Spirit who inspired this psalm of David for our good and God’s glory, invites us to be so enamored with the presence of God, our soul’s lover, that our hearts and their attached desires become soft and pliable to His wishes, intention, and direction.

Commit
Note that David did not take a Buddhist approach to his desired path (ways) and dreams, seeking to nullify them. He had real desires, real plans, but he continually entrusted them, committed them, to the One who loved Him.

The Hebrew word, galal, translated as commit above, literally means to roll away. This same word is also used in the Proverbs regarding committing our plans and steps to the Lord (see Proverbs 16:3).

God does nor forbid our dreaming, desiring, and  planning; rather, He asks for a significant, shaping place in the processing of those ways. He asks that the plans that we would most naturally want to cling to tightly and establish by our own devices be rolled to His loving possession for safe-keeping and strategic implementation. To be certain, we will have parts to play in those ways, but we are walk as those prodded by His initiation. holding His proven hands, and trusting His deeper ways.

May we follow our Christ who perfectly abided in the Father even in His exile on earth, who cultivated faithfulness even to the point of death on the cross, who constantly delighted Himself in the Father, and who committed His ways to the Father even when that way included a cross.

As we approach the ball dropping, may we be those who similarly roll our plans for the new year (and new decade) to the Lord.

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Birth is Just the Beginning

Every Advent, I try to write a poem to help re-apply the Christmas Story to a heart and mind grown familiar with the tale. This year, I am down to the wire on all things: wrapping, packing, and writing.

Lately,  I have found myself thinking about Mary, the new mother who was likely scared, elated, and everything in between. After the long journey that was forced upon them late in her pregnancy and the birth in the back room with the livestock, I imagine Mary had quite a lot to process.

Every mother experiences that moment when the adrenaline wears off, the meal train grinds to a halt, and a new reality sets in.  Life will never be the same. All those months of preparation for the child have come to an end, but new life as a mother is only beginning.

After the shepherds left, the story had only begun.

There would be a flight from infanticide. An unexpected prophecy of maternal pain from Simeon. A strange visit from scholars from the East. Long middle years of normalcy and monotony, broken up with moments of perplexity like finding her adolescent Son confidently teaching grown men in the Temple. Swift tides of change as her son matured and veered from His father’s trade toward the less stable itinerant teacher track. Her Son’s sudden spike in popularity, quickly followed by threats and near-death escapes. His fate seemingly riding on the fickle waves of public opinion.

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Isolation. Relief. Confusion. Frustration. All culminating in anguish unspeakable as she watched her first born Son suffer in excruciating pain, as she heard His name mired in undeserved shame.

Elation when her grief became glee as the younger Mary told her the joyous news of the  Resurrection. Equal parts excitement and hesitation as the disciples told her about His Ascension back to the Father from whence He had come.

I wonder, if you found Mary later in life, what she would have said about that first night with her Son in light of all that came later. I wonder what the first few years were like after her Son’s ascending back to the Father in an even more mysterious and miraculous way than He had come. I wonder if she and John sat around and laughed while crying, telling stories about Jesus, the son, the friend, the Christ.

I imagine that His Ascension, like His birth, was a beginning. A beginning of a life simultaneously longing to be with Him again, yet presently attesting to His life, death and resurrection alongside the inchoate church.

Tears fill my eyes as I imagine that first hug between Christ and His mother when we all receive glorified bodies in the New Heavens and the New Earth. A third new beginning that will never end.

No mother knows what her motherhood journey will entail. The process unfolds just as organically and often imperceptibly as her child seems to grow. Yet, Mary walked in faithful obedience, trusting that the God who had sought her out would sustain her.

Birth was Just the Beginning

Travel. Travail. A baby’s wail.
Birth was just the beginning. 

Sleepless nights. Fleeing flights. 
A momma’s heart is spinning.

Long days. Quick years. Real fears.
Her love on His heart imprinting.

Horrendous cross. Unthinkable loss.
The mother’s hope is thinning.

Reunion. Resurrection. Perfection.
The pair cannot stop grinning. 

His Ascension. Her heart’s tension.
This, too, is just the beginning. 

Oh, that we would faithfully walk out the days He has ordained from us from before there were days. That we would trust Him with our beginnings and ends, that we would live in light of the new beginning that will usher in our eternal tomorrows. That we would remember His coming, His cross, and His coming again.

 

 

 

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When Immeasurably More Feels like Immeasurably Less

While I was killing some time in carline two days ago, I heard a song on the Christian radio station that did not sit well with me. As I am not a connoisseur of contemporary Christian music, I don’t even know the name or artist, but the essence was that God’s way is always triumph and victory.  Ever since then, my mind has been churning.

Yes, God’s ways will ultimately result in victory, as we know from Revelation 19- 21 which depict our warrior king, the king of kings and the  Lord of lords, coming to judge evil for good. But the way the song was worded made it sound like if one could simply sing this song and believe enough, one would experience this victorious, triumphant life right now in the ways one desired.

We all love to pray Ephesians 3:20-21:

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all we ask or think,  according to the power at work within us,  to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus, throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

Some translations say immeasurably more. But what happens when God’s immeasurably more looks like immeasurably less, looks more like defeat and failure than victory and success?

Anyone who has been snorkeling in the Caribbean has experienced first hand that the more shallow the water, the greater the visibility and clarity; however, the deeper the waters, the darker it appears.

God’s purposes are as deep as His love is high. As His ways are deeper than the Mariana Trench, we should expect them to appear dark, murky and mysterious to our limited perspective and understanding.

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For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts. Isaiah 55:8-9.

When we pray for healing, asking God to immeasurably more than we could ask or imagine, sometimes His immeasurably more looks to us like immeasurably less when the scan comes back showing that the cancer spread. When a still-single or suddenly-single-again believer earnestly trusts God for immeasurably more in the form of the provision of a godly spouse only to continually be disappointed, His immeasurably more appears to be immeasurably less.

But to measure God’s ways by our limited perspective is like trying to chart four dimensional shapes on a basic Cartesian plane or to try to measure the depths of the sea in a child’s beach bucket.

Joseph still serving time in prison for a crime he didn’t commit didn’t feel like immeasurably more. But when we see God providing more time for him to heal and be prepared to forgive His brothers and forge a path for God’s people through famine, we trace threads of immeasurably  more  

When Naomi left with a full family but an empty bread basket for a land promising more but came back emptied of her boys and her bread, it did not seem like God had done immeasurably more. Yet, as we look back upon God’s faithfulness to her and her kin, we see Ruth and Obed woven into the lineage of Christ.

The most powerful example of immeasurably more appearing to be immeasurably less is the Cross of Christ. For there, the dark depths of the mysterious ways of God swallowed up the sinless One. The disciples, the travelers on the road to Emmaus, and the women who had faithfully followed and served Christ to the end were stunned and confused by God’s immeasurably less…

Until He rose and emptied off the depths of God that we might peer into the wisdom of His ways. What appeared to be immeasurably less was, indeed, immeasurably more than humanity could have asked or imagined.

If you find yourself staring into the deep and complex Mariana Trench of God’s purposes, you can trust His character and His intentions toward you.

 

 

 

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Powerlessness & La Posada

I had never heard of La Posada until we moved to San Diego, but it is quickly becoming one of the things I most look forward to during the Christmas season.

La Posada is a Mexican Christmas tradition which reenacts Mary and Joseph seeking a place in Bethlehem.  For nine evenings from December 16 to December 24, families and/or neighbors take turns hosting a posada (which means inn). A couple dresses as Maria and Jose and knocks from door to door until they are finally let into the home of the hosts where they are welcomed and celebrated.

The traditional Posada song alternates as a sung conversation between the potential innkeepers and the desperate parents, until at last they find shelter at the hands of the last innkeeper.  The words are hauntingly human.

Joseph: In the name of Heaven/ I beg you for lodging/ For she cannot walk/ My beloved wife.

Innkeeper: This is not an inn/ So keep going/ I cannot open/ You may be bad people.

Joseph: Don’t be inhuman/  Have mercy on us/ The God of the Heavens / will reward you for it. 

Innkeeper: Better go on / And don’t bother us/ For if I become angry/ I shall have to beat you up.

Joseph:  We are worn out / Coming from Nazareth/ I’m a carpenter / My name is Joseph.

Innkeeper:  Your name doesn’t matter/ Let me sleep/  For I am telling you /  We shall not open.

Joseph: Lodging is asked of you/ Dear man/ For just one night/ By the queen of Heaven.

Innkeeper: Well, if it’s a queen/  Who solicits it? /  Why is it that at night / Does she travel so alone?

Joseph: My wife is Mary/ She’s the queen of Heaven / And is going to be the mother/ of the Divine Word. 

Innkeeper: Are you Joseph?/ Your wife is Mary?/ Enter pilgrims/ I did not know you.

Joseph: May God pay, senores / Your kindness/ And thus the heavens heap/ Happiness upon you.

Innkeeper: Fortunate the house  / That shelters this day / The pure virgin /  The beautiful Mary. 

Joseph: Fortunate this house / That gives us shelter/ May God always give it/ Its sacred happiness.

We have only attended La Posada for the past two years, but each year,  it is has made the powerlessness of Mary and Joseph palpable to me (and hopefully to my children as well, as the older two have attended).

Added to the beauty of the enactment is the location of the particular La Posada event we attend. La Posada Sin Fronteras is a combined ecumenical effort between people in Tijuana and San Diego. For the past 26 years, it has taken place at Friendship Park, a park that is split by the U.S/ Mexico border. In decades past, the event happened directly along the fence, so closely that the Posada song was sung back and forth from Mexico to America.  However, more recently the event has been moved further back. Last year when we went, we had to shout to hear one another. This year, due to flooding and the inaccessibility of the park, we had to do the event at a different park where the wall was visible but in the far distance.

Oddly enough, we ended up walking around the outlet shopping center parking lot that juts up right to the border line. It was a strange situation, walking around, singing Christmas carols,  and hearing the names of the those who had died trying to cross the border this past year while Christmas shopping was going on all around us. The juxtaposition made it even more eery. There is nothing wrong with shopping. To be honest, we bought a soccer ball on the walk back. It was just the juxtaposition of different realities that was sobering.

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As I was processing the experience today, I felt a profound amount of gratitude for Mary and Joseph’s vulnerability and faith.

They said yes to the strange and utterly unexpected task of carrying and raising the Christ child in vulnerability and faith.

They had no choice but to travel late in pregnancy. Their opinion or needs would not sway the strong political system. So they went in vulnerability and faith.

They were even powerless over where they might labor to bring forth the Christ child. They literally, as the song so powerfully enacts, went door to door and put their needs out there in vulnerability and faith.

They were powerless over their next steps even after the delivery. They had to take a detour to Egypt to protect their newborn’s life from the jealous rage of a political power. They obeyed God’s warning in vulnerability and faith.

Many years later, Mary would stand at the foot of the cross where her beloved son, whom God had protected as an infant, would be crucified unprotected so that we might take refuge in Him.  She watched in the agony of vulnerability and faith

We all have places in our lives where we feel powerless. Powerless over family relationships. Powerless over our employment. Powerless over our addictions. Powerless over our anxiety and depression.

The Gospel invites us to be present at the foot of the Cross where the all-powerful One became powerless on our behalf. We are now filled with His power. But we are expected to wield that power in the same manner that He did (and that his parents before Him did) in vulnerability and faith.

There is a precious, fictitious children’s book written around the event of La Posada Sin  Fronteras, if you are interested in helping your children imagine a family split by the border seeking to celebrate together.

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Beyond the Baby

My husband and I have differing taste in movies. I like somber, based-on-true-stories movies, while G’Joe loves a good light-hearted, ridiculous flick. Needless to say, finding common ground so that one of us is not irate or sleeping the whole time we watch a film is a challenge. I needed to share that so you won’t judge me (or more like so I won’t judge myself) for having watched Tahladega Nights a few times.

In this movie there is a scene that is both hysterical and haunting (actually that could be true for many scenes). As the family is sitting around about to eat a meal, Will Ferrell begins to say a blessing.  He prays, “Dear Lord, baby Jesus” which ignites a debate about which Jesus to pray to. Ferrell says, “Look, I like the Christmas Jesus best, and I am saying grace. When you’re saying grace, you can decide who to pray to.” The family then goes around the table and talks about how they like to picture Jesus: Jesus in a tuxedo shirt, samurai Jesus, and so on. And Ferrell concludes by praying to “Dear 6 lb 8 ounce newborn infant Jesus…thank you for all your power and grace, dear baby God.”

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Obviously, this is an extreme caricature, but what haunts me is the kernel of truth it is embellishing. I’m not saying that most people picture Jesus in a tuxedo suit or in a dojo; however, there is a sense in which people love to celebrate and enjoy only a chosen sliver of Jesus’ life. I read a challenging poem about a year ago that has been similarly haunting to me. Because of the onslaught of the Christmas season, I wanted to share it.

It is as if infancy
were the whole of incarnation
by Luci Northcote Shaw

One time of the year
The new-born child
Is everywhere,
Planted in madonna’s arms
Hay mows, stables,
In palaces or farms,
Or quaintly, under snowed gables,
Gothic angular or baroque plump,
Naked or elaborately swathed,
Encircled by Della Robbia wreaths,
Garnished with whimsical
Partridges and pears,
Drummers and drums,
Lit by oversize stars,
Partnered with lambs,
Peace doves, sugar plums,
Bells, plastic camels in sets of three,
As if these were what we need
For eternity.

But Jesus the Man is not be seen.
We are too wary, these days,
Of beards and sandalled feet.

Yet if we celebrate, let it be
That He
Has invaded our lives with purpose
Striding over picturesque traditions,
Our shallow sentiment,
Overturning our cash registers,
Wielding His peace like a sword,
Rescuing us into reality,
Demanding much more
Than the milk and softness
And the mother warmth
Of the baby in the storefront crèche,

(only the Man would ask
all, of each of us)
reaching out
always, urgently, with strong
effective love
(only the Man would give
His life and live
Again for love of us).

Oh, come, let us adore Him –
Christ – the Lord.

Don’t get me wrong, I love a good creche. But I need to be reminded that Christmas was simply the beginning of the life of the God-man Jesus, “the one who has invaded our lives with his purpose,” who forces us to see ourselves and humanity through the most realistic, yet hope-filled lenses. We don’t like to be addressed in our sin-sickness, our weakness, or our superficiality, but this is exactly what Jesus lovingly does. He came to earth to be the perfect full-orbed human that we all fail so miserably to be. And this is our deep and abiding hope. This is the legacy of Christ, the Lord.

 

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Tears in the Tinsel

Trees are going up, lights are being hung, halls are being decked, cards are being sent. For most, the magic of another Christmas season has begun.

The month of December is swollen with nostalgia and festivities, events and shopping, family and friends. Littered with goodwill and acts of service, December truly can be a joyous time, a bright few weeks in bleak times.

But what happens when you are doing all the seasonal “stuff,” but your heart feels far from the ethereal Christmas spirit, a phrase that gets tossed around among the tinsel? What should you do when you are lighting the Hope Advent calendar and doing your daily readings, but your heart feels stuck, heavy and hopeless?

Those who can’t manufacture the Christmas emotions of joy and gratitude often compound their sorrows with layers of guilt and shame. What is wrong with me? Why can’t I just be thankful for all that I have?

Santa hats don’t hide sadness well, and even the best gifts can’t alleviate grief.

There is room for tears in the tinsel; in fact, when the twinkling lights aren’t enough to light up a heavy heart, the stage is set well for the true Christmas spirit.

We love to quote Isaiah 9:6 during the Christmas seasons, and well we should. The words capture the hope of Christmas, Jesus Christ, God Incarnate come to earth.

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 

There is much to celebrate during the Christmas season, most notably the remembrance of the event that set into play a series of events that changed the fabric of history and humanity for all eternity. We do well to sing, to toast, to cheer, to give generously in memorial of Christ’s birth in which the light of the world came in germinal form to invade the darkness.

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However, the context of said verse from Isaiah reminds us that the light shines most brightly in the background of deep darkness.

But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish…The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has a light shone. Isaiah 9:1 & 2. 

Just as the physical darkness was pierced by the star that led the Magi to Christ, the spiritual darkness was pierced by the birth, life, death and resurrection of Christ. Gloom took a huge hit when Christ was born and was dealt a fatal blow in his resurrection.

But we live in the already/ not yet. The darkness is disseminating, but it still shadows us. Christ came and secured for us the coming kingdom of light, inviting us in by His grace. But the darkness of losing loved ones, mourning injustice, fighting depression and cancer is still present. Such real darkness cannot be chased away by Christmas trees or candy or vacations with family and friends.

Christmas looks back to the manger, but it also looks ahead to the day when the remnant of gloom and darkness will be swallowed up by what is life.

For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent, we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling…For while we are still in these tent, we groan, being burdened- not that we could be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed,  so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by what is life. He who has prepared for us this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. So we are always of good courage.  2 Corinthians 5: 1-6. 

If you find yourself crying tears into your tinsel or grieving while decorating your gingerbread house this Christmas, remember that you are not alone.

A building from God, a house made without hands, decked far more beautifully than any mansion here, is coming. Soon, all gloom will be consumed by the full and final coming of the Light of the World.

Paul’s charge to the Corinthian Church applies to us today. Be of good courage this Christmas season, whether it finds in great joy or great grief.

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Recharged

When I am spent, I find my soul seeking refuge and refreshment in nature. The compounding stress of carlines,  deadlines, and headlines crushes out a fresh sense of wonder and expectancy in my heart.

I cannot say it better than the wordsmith Gerard Manley Hopkins did in God’s Grandeur.

….And for all this, nature is never spent;
     There  lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though  the last lights off the black West  went
     Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs –
Because the  Holy Ghost over the bent
       World broods with warm breast  and with ah! bright wings! 

Awe is not automated. It is not the result of a formula, though I wish it were. The recharging of a soul is far more nuanced than the electrical re-charging a phone. And such we should expect, considering the comparative significance of souls to stuff.

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This Fall was an incredibly busy and bustling season for our family. The busyness was necessary and intentionally selected  personal, familial, and organizational development.   It was productive and powerful;  yet, it has left me trying to kick the leader’s addiction to adrenaline. All Fall I have sighed, wanting slowness. But since the slower Winter has come, I have found myself inwardly rebelling against the stillness.

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This past week, multiple appointments were cancelled, leaving me a few  precious pockets of time to explore my favorite regional park with my favorite four-legged companion.  Those few hours did what coffee shops and books have failed to do for the past few weeks. God used them to begin recharging me.  I should not have been surprised,  as Psalm 19 so clearly describes the way they sing the Creator’s restorative song.

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Awake!

Today the Scrub Jay delivered to me
A message of momentous import.
But, fluttering, he fled the scene
Before I did respond to his report. 

The heavens declare the glory of the Lord;
Awake,  slumbering soul;  get on board. 

Clumps of mud collected on my feet,
Bidding me to slow my hurried pace.
Bristles of breezes tickled my cheeks,
Gently guiding me to lift my face.  

The skies shout out His great name.
Awake, slumbering soul; do the same.

The droplets mustered for the Master,
Gathering, awaiting word to descend,
As Brave blades of fresh green grass,
Coaxed by His command did ascend.

Creation listens to His gentle direction;
Awake, slumbering soul; pay attention.

While nature may not be one of the sacred pathways by which you connect with God, I challenge you to look into Gary Thomas’ Sacred Pathways to find the unique ways God has wired your soul to recharge in Him.

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Deep as the Curse Has Dug

He comes to make His blessings flow/
Far as the curse is found/
Far as the curse is found/
Far as, far as the curse is found. 

Few Christmas carols have had the staying power of Isaac Watt’s Joy to the World. Even those who don’t practice the Christian faith loudly belt out its chorus at candle-lighting ceremonies and holiday gatherings. We hum to it while shopping for stocking stuffers. Its tune floods our kitchens as we make cookies enough for a small nation.

The catchy, well-known tune is undergirded by a bedrock of rich theological realities meant to inform our living well beyond the holiday season. The Coming of Christ as an infant into time and space left eternal ripples that changed the very fabric of human  existence. The song reminds us that the ripples of His coming are to reach to the farthermost places where the curse has been wreaking its havoc.

When Adam and Eve first distrusted and then quickly disobeyed the Lord’s protective commands, shalom was shattered. Devastating fissures were fixed between God and man, within mankind  both inter-personally and intra-personally, and between mankind and nature.The Son born in Bethlehem of Judea was the beginning of shalom being restored.

I know this theologically; however, I deeply struggle to believe this personally and experientially.  Sometimes I am overcome and overwhelmed with the darkness out there in the world. Other times, I am completely paralyzed and appalled at the darkness in here, within me. This past few weeks have been the latter.

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Despite the innumerable blessings around me, I find complaining and discontentment squatting in my heart. Even though I am attempting to fight the consumerism that marks Christmas, my heart gets distracted by the siren songs of the Dollar Zone. Even though I want to live intentionally, I still find myself frittering time away on screens or through an  instinctive desire to keep busy. In these patterns, I realize just how deeply the curse has dug into the caverns of my soul.

I need to know that Christ came not only to make his blessings known far as the curse is found, but to let them drip as deep as the curse has dug.

Deep as the Curse Has Dug

You came to make mercy known
As far as the curse is found;
But can it be possibly drip
Into dungeons underground?

The curse has crept into crevices,
Pooling in pockets of my soul.
I’ve so grown used to its effects,
It’s hard to imagine being whole.

Deep as the curse has dug
Can Your love descend?
It seems unthinkable that you
My damaged heart could mend.

May Your Triune Presence
Pervade both far and deep.
Let Your Agape love into
My deep darknesses creep.

Son of God Most High
Who descended into Hell,
With Your power permeate
This my soul’s murky well. 

Change me into Your image,
As Your love casts out fear.
It is cold, damp and dark,
But there’s room for you here.

Contrary to the popular notion of a barn, our Christ was most likely born in a cave. The custom of the time was to keep one’s animals sheltered in caves underground, as barns as we think of them were not common. As such, it seems fitting that Spirit would descend to make His home among the caverns of the human heart. There, He does His work of applying the gospel deep as the curse has dug.